6 steps to buying the best Lamborghini Diablo. Uncompromising to drive and to own. Buy well to avoid bank account meltdown. Words: ADAM TOWLER Photos: TOM WOOD
Buckinghamshire High Performance is an engineering company with a passion for all things Lamborghini, offering sales, sourcing, servicing, track and race preparation, restoration and storage. The company was founded and is now run by brothers Neil and Sunny Singh.
Former City lawyer Neil (top) looks after vehicle sales, stock procurement and the asset management of customers’ car collections, while Sunny – a former BTCC engineer who began his career building race engines – heads up the engineering, servicing, tuning and restoration part of the operation, together with product improvement and design.
WHY WOULD YOU WANT A DIABLO? It’s obvious: styling like no other, that legendary Lamborghini badge and a gargantuan V12 connected to an open-gate manual gearbox; road presence still beyond that of most cars; doors that open scissor-style; engine noise from an orchestra beyond the clouds; a 200mph-plus top speed; values on a steady upward slope… Need I go on?
The question of whether it’s right for you is more difficult to answer, not just because of the significant initial outlay to acquire one and, potentially, more alarming sums to keep one running sweetly, but also because Diablos require a skilled hand at the wheel along with a willingness to be the centre of attention wherever you go.
There’s a very good reason why a lot of early Lamborghinis are low-mileage,’ says Neil Singh of Buckinghamshire High Performance. ‘For a start they’re not the most comfortable of cars; and where do you park it? They’re also very wide and rear visibility is not good. And then there are the running costs…’
The Diablo was in production for 11 years, and over that time morphed from being the ultimate car made by cottage industry’ Lamborghini to a more polished product of the Volkswagen-Audi Group (VAG). So there’s a wide range of models, although given how few were originally sold – and the fact that some have been shipped abroad – even finding one can be difficult.
‘They can deteriorate quickly if they’re left unmaintained,’ says Neil. In fact, if there’s one common theme from talking to Diablo specialists and owners, it’s that these wonderful cars demand that any maintenance jobs that arise – whether routine or unexpected – are dealt with. Owner Phil James sums it up perfectly. ‘You’ve got to be prepared to do whatever it needs, whenever it needs it, and not worry about how much it will cost. If you can’t afford that, don’t buy one.’
Be prepared to attract attention as you drive around looking for somewhere you can park it
Be prepared to do whatever it needs, whenever it needs it, and not worry about how much it will cost. If you can’t afford that, don’t buy one’
Hot seat, right enough: Diablo is demanding to drive, so make sure you can live with it
1 PAPERWORK It’s easy to be seduced by a Diablo, but it’s crucial to keep a level head when buying one. And the most crucial thing of all is to conduct a thorough examination of all paperwork.
Try to find one that’s been to a reputable specialist,’ is Neil’s advice. ‘Don’t just be satisfied by service stamps in the book – you’ve got to look beyond the stamps and into the paperwork to see if the right jobs have been done at the right time. And don’t worry too much about which model – always try to buy the very best car you can afford, but be prepared to accept a few niggles and constant fettling.’
A Diablo should have been treated to the best over the years, and you’ll want to see lots of evidence that it has enjoyed a money-no-object lifestyle. A big-ticket failure such as a worn-out clutch is inevitable at some point in Diablo ownership; but if there’s no proof of a recent change, budget accordingly and ask more searching questions.
Given the potential for financial carnage, it makes sense to invest in a pre-purchase inspection. BHP charges from £300 to carry out this which, given the thousands of pounds you could potentially save, seems like a no-brainer. Amazingly, many go into the purchase blind.
2 ENGINE The crowning glory of the Diablo is the scintillating, naturally aspirated V12 powerhouse located just aft of your shoulder blades. A development of the original, 3.5-litre V12 first seen in the 350GT of ’64, by the era of the Diablo it had grown into a 5.7-litre, 48-valve monster, producing 492bhp and 428lb ft of torque. Outputs then grew progressively, culminating in the 567bhp 6.0-litre GT of 1999.
Don’t succumb to those single- minded supercar looks until you’ve subjected the car to almost forensic scrutiny
The good old V12 is a tough unit if looked after, so maintenance is the key to avoiding big bills in the long term. Neil concurs. ‘Any issues here with the engine and this is where the money will mount up. They do burn oil, and it varies from car to car, so check it out thoroughly. If the engine requires a rebuild, you’re looking at £14,500-£24,000.’ Gulp.
You’ll also want to check the servicing paperwork with forensic precision to see evidence of the valve clearances being set at the major service: it sometimes gets skipped. The big service is £1980 but to do the shims costs £270, with the shims themselves costing from £3-£20 each.
3 CLUTCH AND DRIVETRAIN The Diablo’s clutch is perhaps its single greatest weakness. Wear depends on how the car is driven as much as mileage: not riding the clutch while driving in town is a very good idea. The complete clutch kit is £2142 (you can change just the plate at £468 but it depends on wear and is not really advisable), with BHP charging £2700 for fitting. If a Diablo’s clutch slips on a test-drive, you take it seriously.
Gearbox problems are rare, but a rebuild will be £4800 so check carefully for worn synchromesh. Abuse a 4WD VT – full-on standing starts, trackday heroics and suchlike – and the next items to wear will be the front driveshafts. The front differential can get noisy, but some VT owners remove the front driveshafts altogether to make their cars rear-wheel drive. Remember that four-wheel-drive cars rely on correct, matching tyres for the system to function properly.
4 CORROSION While a serious engine fault is the headline fear of Diablo ownership, the hidden menace is corrosion. Diablos are made up from a relatively crude steel frame and box-section chassis, and exposure to the UK climate in particular can rot them alarmingly (for confirmation of this, see below for owner Rob Day’s experience).
It can be very hard to spot the onset of rust if it’s within the car, but there should be some telltale signs if you take a close look underneath: that’s why a pre-purchase inspection is so important. If you do end up with a rotten car, BHP charges from £480 for labour in sorting surface corrosion, with materials on top, but a complete chassis restoration starts at £6000 and can be a lot more. Then there are the body panels to think of, and while these are easier to sort out they can still suffer corrosion – particularly the doors.
Paint quality from new wasn’t great, but remember that if it does need painting there’s an awful lot of surface area to cover. Obviously, that means you’ll need an awful lot of paint: BHP reckons on £420 per panel for a good-quality repaint.
MEET THE OWNERS
‘The sheer scale of it is just something else’
Richard and his friend Paul are co-owners of the VT Roadster featured in our studio shoot. ‘We were looking for a car j that was in mint condition, and we also wanted it to be as original as possible. This one fitted the bill and it just looked so good in yellow – and then there’s the sheer scale of it, which is just something else.
‘We haven’t set a budget yet for running the car, but sharing it with Paul will really help with the costs. Yes. it’s a challenge to drive the car compared to the more modern stuff, but that just makes it all the more enjoyable.
‘Reversing it certainly isn’t fun, though – it’s very large at the back and visibility is poor.
And it’s hard to check the oil level without burning your hands.
‘I think we’re probably in the honeymoon period at the moment…’
Rob bought his Mkl Diablo SV in 2000. ‘It’s just an unbelievable thing, with a real personality, and it’s phenomenally fast.’ But he’s blunt in his assessment of the Diablo’s ability and in what it has cost him.
‘It’s not nice to drive, especially compared to a Ferrari 458, say. It takes 30 minutes to warm up, then it’s a different car. You’re aware there’s no ABS or ESP – it’s a real responsibility.’ And those costs? ‘A specialist found that the floorpans and chassis box sections were rotten.’ Rob embarked on a complete restoration at huge expense – the engine rebuild was £25,000 alone. ‘Parts are astronomically expensive, and it’s obvious when you take it apart that it’s handmade. But it’s an intriguing buy: I’ve no intention of selling this one.
‘My advice would be not to buy one unless you can really afford it.’
Phil has owned his 6.0-litre VT since 2007, using it for everything from Nurburgring track days to trips to the Cannes Film Festival. In that time he’s racked up 20,000 miles. The 6.0 is very different to the early cars,’ he says, ‘It’s the first of the Audi-Lamborghinis, with Kevlar in the body and the wider front track. I love the tidied-up styling. Sometimes I think about selling it but then I come out and look at it and think, ‘‘I can’t do that!”
Phil’s upgrades include Brembo floating grooved discs. ‘It’s a heavy car that does colossal speeds – three laps of Spa and you’d have to come in for a cuppa to give the brakes a rest’.
The pleasure is in running it: what it needs, it gets. Annual costs can be anything from a few hundred to thousands. You can be sensible about running it. Just don’t mention the ‘L’ word when ordering parts or tyres – you’ll get a better deal!’
A beautiful thing – V12 can become a expensive one if m lavished with attention
5 SUSPENSION Unsurprisingly, given the forces involved in keeping this supercar on the straight and narrow, the Diablo’s suspension docs wear out. And parts prices aren’t cheap. Bushes perish, wishbones can corrode and dampers leak, although BHP is sometimes able to rebuild the latter if they’re not too far gone. A repair costs £720 per damper, but replacements are £1920 and ideally you would replace them in pairs. You’ll also need to factor in labour at £450 (for changing all four) and a subsequent alignment check at £300.
Some later Diablos have electronically controlled variable dampers with different settings – but if the actuators fail inside they’re fit only for the bin.
Some cars have a lifting kit on the front suspension to clear speed bumps, but the system can leak – and given that it uses the power steering fluid it needs fixing quickly.
6 ELECTRICS The Diablo is the sort of car where an engine light appearing on the dash every time you drive it is nothing remarkable. They can suffer from a whole gamut of electrical niggles, and are prone to tripping sensors on the engines.
Any coil pack failure on later cars will mean buying all 12 from Lamborghini or finding singular Audi A8 items – they’re exactly the same part.
The obvious area for relatively straightforward improvement is the braking system. However, if you’re not intending to use your Diablo hard, simply making sure the standard system is in good health will suffice.
An earlier car may have had a flat-front 6.0-litre-style nose conversion, but if you’ve an eye on future values confirm with the seller that it can be converted back to pop-ups if required.
BHP will retrofit power steering to an early car, making it much more wieldy but advises that ‘these cars are probably at the point where you’d want to leave it alone to protect the car’s value. Make sure changes are reversible, and that you keep the standard parts.’
Although a 1991 car, this left-hand-drive example was first registered in France in November 1996. It’s now being offered for sale in Belgium with just 16,329km (10,146 miles) on the clock.
► 1990 The original Diablo, with a 48-valve, DOHC, 5.7-litre V12 producing 492bhp; 202mph top speed.
► 1993 VT: Four-wheel drive, with a viscous centre diff that gives the car its name. There’s also a subtly revised exterior and interior, four-piston brakes, electronically adjustable dampers and PAS.
► 1994 SE30: Marking the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first Lamborghini, this racing-inspired lightweight features a stripped-out interior, larger front air dam and rear spoiler and revised V12 that pumps out 523bhp. 15 cars converted to Jota spec: twin roof air intakes feed 595bhp V12.
► 1995 SV: Entry-level model based on a standard RWD car, and lighter, it has larger front brakes and 510bhp V12. Also this year: VT Roadster with a targa roof.
► 1999 SV and VT/VT Roadster facelift: Now under Audi control, funds arrive to update the ageing warrior. Standard RWD model is dropped, while all Diablos gain fixed headlamps (replacing the pop-ups), 18in wheels, a 529bhp engine and ABS.
The other big news for ’99 is the Diablo GT, clothed in wildly exaggerated bodywork and with a wider front track. Its 6.0-litre V12 puts out 567bhp.
► 2000 6.0 VT: the most complete version, Lamborghini’s fully ‘Audified’ Diablo has revised styling, more sophisticated and reliable electronics, and a more flexible version of the GT’s 6.0-litre V12. Only available as a coupe.
► 2001 The SE limited edition brings to an end the 11 -year production run of the Diablo, replaced by the Murcielago.
Who can help
BHP Motorsport: bhpmsport.com,
Lamborghini Club UK: lamborghiniclub.co.uk Thanks to
Neil and Sunny Singh at BHP Motorsport; all the owners featured
5707cc-5992cc, 48v, DOHC, V12
|RWD and 4WD
|Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bars
|Rack and pinion (PAS on later cars)
|Ventilated discs front and rear ABS on later cars
wheel size front 8½J x 17
wheel size rear 13J x 17
tyres front Pirelli P Zero 245/40 ZR 17
tyres rear Pirelli P Zero 335/35 ZR 17
|4,460 mm (175.6 in)–4,470 mm (176.0 in)
|2,040 mm (80.3 in)
|1,105 mm (43.5 in)–1,115 mm (43.9 in)
|2,650 mm (104.3 in)
Think £60,000 upwards for early RWD and VT models: £120,000 upwards for good SE30s and SVs, and double or more for rare models such as the Jota